(Adds FAA confirmation that computer's handling of U-2 caused
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES May 5 An air traffic control glitch
that caused hundreds of flight cancellations or delays across
Southern California last week was triggered by a computer
misinterpreting the flight path of a U-2 spy plane, the Federal
Aviation Administration said on Monday.
A computer problem at an air traffic control center in
Palmdale, California last Wednesday forced the delay or
cancellation of more than 200 flights at Los Angeles
Dozens of flights were also delayed at smaller airports
across the region, as well as commercial airliners headed for
Southern California from across the country.
"On April 30, 2014, an FAA air traffic system that processes
flight plan information experienced problems while processing a
flight plan filed for a U-2 aircraft that operates at very high
altitudes under visual flight rules," FAA spokesman Lynn
Lunsford said in a written statement issued by the agency.
Lunsford said the computer system misinterpreted the U-2 as
a more typical low-altitude operation and became overwhelmed in
trying to make sure that its flight path did not conflict with
other air traffic in the region.
"The FAA resolved the issue within an hour, and then
immediately adjusted the system to now require specific altitude
information for each flight plan," he said, adding that the
agency had also taken steps to increase the amount of
flight-processing memory available in the computer system.
"The FAA is confident these steps will prevent a reoccurrence
of this specific problem and other potential similar issues
going forward," Lunsford said.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed that the U-2 spy plane had
flown over Southern California last Wednesday as part of a
routine training mission but said he could not confirm that it
was responsible for the computer glitch.
"The U-2 filed all the proper flight plan paperwork and was
conducting its operation in accordance with those filings,"
Army Colonel Steve Warren said, adding that it was not unusual
for the plane to be flying over the area.
Warren said the incident had not prompted the military to
change the way it conducted such operations.
Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California; John Wayne Airport
in Santa Ana, California; and McCarran International Airport in
Las Vegas were among other facilities affected by the order to
keep planes grounded.
So were flights in other parts of the country that were
bound for the wide swath of airspace in the southwestern United
States managed by the center.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington, D.C.;
Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Ken Wills and Eric Walsh)